World silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates hold a slim lead over Olympic teammates Maia and Alex Shibutani after the U.S. Championships short dance in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday.
Chock and Bates, the defending U.S. champions, totaled 75.14 points, bettering their mark from the 2015 Nationals by 1.19 points.
“We felt connected to each other and connected to our music,” Chock said in a press conference after they skated to their third different short dance this season.
The Shibutani siblings, the three-time U.S. silver medalists without a national title, also improved from last year to post 74.67 points.
In 2015, the Shibutanis trailed by .11 going into the free dance and ended up 3.75 points behind Chock and Bates.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in third, 4.04 behind Chock and Bates (full results here).
The U.S. champions crowned after Saturday’s free dance (live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra) will earn an automatic berth into the World Championships in Boston in two months. A U.S. Figure Skating committee will choose two couples to join them, likely the silver and bronze medalists.
Since 1996, five couples have combined to win all of the U.S. ice dance titles — Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow from 1996 though 1998, Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev from 1999 through 2003, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto from 2004 through 2008, Meryl Davis and Charlie White from 2009 through 2014 and Chock and Bates last year.
Davis and White have not competed since becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions in Sochi but have not retired. They did Icenetwork.com commentary during the short dance.